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Jesus Army must honour compensation scheme says Northamptonshire survivor who was allegedly beaten for missing midnight worship

Website: Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Date: 02/06/2019
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A survivor of the Jesus Army in the 1980s says the only way the sect can prove it is willing to make amends for the past is by compensating those abused under its watch.

Last week, the Evangelist movement that formed in Bugbrooke in 1969, announced it was in the process of winding up the church after 50 years.

The Jesus Army has, in recent years, been subject to some 200 claims of ether sexual, physical, financial or spiritual abuse - mostly by those who had lived and worked in one of the dozens of communal houses operated by the sect around the country.

That combined with a rapidly declining membership, its leaders said, were the motivating factors behind the plans to disband the church.

The Jesus Army statement released on Tuesday made a number of apologies to those who had been abused under its strict regime.

Yet some of the so-called 'survivors' of the Jesus Army, who have waited years - if not decades - to see justice done, say the church must honour a pledge to compensate victims under a redress scheme.

The recently formed Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association has also vowed to lobby for a full public inquiry into the abuse allegations.

"What unites us as one is a shared experience of the control and abuse suffered over years,"a statement on the survivors' website reads.

"This suffering came in many forms; sexual abuse, rape, grooming, beatings, cruelty, slave labour, mind control, child molestation, emotional abuse, bullying, destruction of personality, neglect, spiritual abuse, control, forced marriage, poverty and financial abuse; the list is endless."

One former Jesus Army member who lived in a commune in Northamptonshire and worked at the Army's New Creation Farm in Nether Heyford, said that the apology issued by its leaders was 'all well and good'.

Now though, six years on from the date abuse victims were asked to come forward with disclosures about their treatment within the sect, he said victims deserve more.

"Show me the money for the survivors - show me the action," he said.

Asked how he felt about the church disbanding, he said: "My reaction is that - yes they have had so many disclosures and they have followed through on some of those.

"They are working with a group of ex-members currently and survivors to look at a redress scheme.

"But my feeling is that this doesn't tell us much about how the church and the church assets are protected."

The man was referring to concerns held by some that the disbanding of the church could result in its assets - a 60-strong property portfolio and a half-a-million-pound-a-year business empire - falling outside the compensation funds available for the scheme.

The spokesman for the Jesus Army, Laurence Cooper, told the Chronicle & Echo that while he understood concerns and suspicions, they were needless.

He repeated the statements issued previously that the reasons for closure of the Jesus Army were concerned with the damage to the reputation to the reputation of the church following the allegations of abuse, confidence of the members being shaken, donations slowing down, declining membership, lack of desire in the leaders to continue and the belief that no-one else should try to head the organisation, given the circumstances.

"In it all, a profound desire not to defend the reputation of the JFC as an institution, but to acknowledge the pain of victims and to extend an unreserved apology to them," he said.

He says the church has every intention to fund a redress scheme under a separate charitable trust called the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust.

The man himself claimed to be a victim of abuse during his time in the fellowship.

While his family had been attending Jesus Amy congregations since he was 14, they did not move into a communal house in Northampton until the early 1980s, when he turned 16.

Having left school, he was required to work at New Creation Farm - largely picking potatoes - for 40 hours a week, he claims.

"No one was shifting spuds like us in the area certainly," he said, relating to the sheer size of the farm's operation in the 1980s

"Only people who had contracts with people like Golden Wonder were doing more."

Those who worked on the farms and lived in the communes did so as 'volunteers' - though outside seasonal staff were given a small wage.

The man recalls how - as he was classed as being unemployed - he was also encouraged to claim dole money from the Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS) and plough that back into the common fund.

Over the years the Army's use of benefits - such as housing benefit - has been the source of several High Court legal battles.

Incidently, in 2016, the Jesus Army was named as one of 534 organisations who signed up to a scheme requiring jobseekers' allowance and other benefit claimants to work unpaid for 30 hours a week in order to receive their weekly welfare payment.

Many of the survivors' claims relate to what they describe as back-breaking unpaid labour in the various industries.

This would often be followed by a schedule of mandatory evening meetings and worship.

"The whole thing was based around keeping you mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted so you didn't have the energy to kick up a fuss," said the source.

On New Year's Eve in the early 1980s, the man claims to have been physically assaulted by a group of men for refusing to attend the midnight worship - because he was tired and needed sleep as a result of a day's work on the farm.

"Some of the men came to my bed to cast out demons from me, but I still refused to go to the worship.

"Someone else came back and physically dragged me out of the bed before pushing me around the room."

A spokesman for the Jesus Army, Laurence Cooper, says the church has every intention to fund a redress scheme under a separate charitable trust called the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust.

Mr Cooper continued: "While the trustees have a legal obligation to provide for the welfare of current members of the Community Trust, they want to provide help and compensation for those who suffered abuse or poor treatment in the past. They are seeking to provide resources to help former and current members towards closure from the mistakes and painful experiences of the past.

"A working party - including victims and their representatives - is leading the development of this redress scheme. While we cannot undo the harm done, we hope that this can be of some help to those who feel they can engage with the scheme.

"We are committed to working with the Police and Social Services to ensure that all allegations of abuse that come to our attention are dealt with appropriately and encourage anyone with concerns to report them."